Strengthening India’s naval presence off Somalia

Remaining sensitive to the maritime balance of power

How success changes things. It was only a couple of months ago that Defence Minister A K Antony said that “as a policy, the government would not carry out hot pursuit of pirates, as it had wider implications.” Today, on the back of INS Tabar’s stellar performance, the Indian government has let it be known that not only will the naval presence be strengthened, but that it has allowed the navy to conduct hot pursuit into Somalian waters.

No, is not the Indian Navy that has come of age—rather, India’s political leadership has—with much kicking and screaming—shockingly realised how military capability can be used to advance India’s geopolitical interests.

That the INS Mysore, a Delhi-class destroyer will join and eventually replace the Tabar is a good thing. So is the decision to deploy an aircraft for aerial reconnaissance. For while there is much celebration on the Tabar’s sinking of a pirate mother ship, it remains exposed to asymmetrical warfare at sea. The Somali pirates are aggressive and their rocket-propelled grenades could cause some damage to naval assets. Explosive-laden speedboats could be used to ram naval ships if they are off-guard. But the naval ships’ weapons have greater range and superior firepower. Therefore the capability to engage pirate vessels while remaining outside their range is a source of tactical advantage. Aerial reconnaissance is one way to augment this capability. Another way is to coordinate with international navies patrolling those waters.

Coordination is also useful is to optimise patrolling arrangements. While coordination is necessary, placing the flotilla under a UN flag is unlikely to be the answer. The idea of a UN command has surfaced again. That is a dogmatic approach and adds the deadweight of bureaucratic and political control that is both unnecessary and counterproductive. If the UN peacekeeping has failed on land, there is no reason why it will succeed at sea. As we have argued it is timely for India to rethink the entire policy on overseas military deployments to ensure that these are effective, and serve the national interest. Another issue—as highlighted in our policy brief—is for the armed forces to develop “cooperation capital” that will allow them to coordinate with those of other countries on such missions.

Finally, commenting on the issue, the Indian Express asserts that “international naval presence in the region will work to everyone’s advantage”. The developments in Somalia do not support this conclusion, nor does it stand up to scrutiny. Much depends on the identity, capabilities and intention of the international naval presence in the region—India must remain sensitive to the maritime balance of power in the Indian Ocean region, and not get carried away by a rare moment in history where the world’s major powers appear to have a shared interest in one theatre.

5 thoughts on “Strengthening India’s naval presence off Somalia”

  1. Why should India be a dutiful beast of burden, and provide all this nice security for the world, without getting its due in return? Let the world first give India a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
    The Permanent Five members of the Security Council argue that they have their seats because they are the 5 most important military powers, which no others can come close to. As a result, important countries like India are shut out.
    If that’s their contention, then let these worthies patrol the seas, and India can purely look after its own shipping.
    But if they are expecting India to step in and offer protection to all, then let them make India a permanent member first. “No taxation without representation” (ie. no obligation without representation)
    Furthermore, India’s Navy should particularly avoid helping out any Chinese ships being harassed by pirates, since not only is China in competition with the Indian Navy, but furthermore the current wave of piracy is an outgrowth of China’s reckless arms sales to fuel Africa’s tribal wars.

    The Chinese have made their bed, and should now lie in it. India should protect its own, and not give others a free ride. Furthermore, it should advertise its views loudly, so that the pirates will know not to attack Indian ships, and will pass them over to instead go for the other more vulnerable targets — like China’s shipping in particular.

  2. @Sanjay,

    Dude, you need to chill. And get a sense of proportion.

    First, we are doing this for our own sake, not being a beast for someone else’s burden.

    Second, important though it is, it is hardly the world’s most pressing problem. Demanding a UNSC seat doesn’t need such actions anyway, and it is foolish to tie the claim to such things.

    Finally, what’s the big fixation with the UN, dude? Let that madhouse be.

  3. Most of the online forums of news sites that report the INS Tabar’s sinking of pirate mother ship are full of praise for India. This event combined with the moon landing seems to have enhanced India’s image on the world stage at least a little. But there are doubt mongers and naysayers as usual. See this article by M K Bhadrakumar in Asia Times, an online newspaper brimming with anti-Indian articles. He deftly suggests that India’s move is unwise, illegal, aimed at China and may draw retaliation.

  4. Kudos to Indian Navy for showing people how its done. What it has exposed is that these pirates, even though well armed, are still not large enough to hijack big tankers. If we let them get away with this so easily, we all should hang our heads in shame. We need to teach them a lesson they will never forget.

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